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Tunisia: standing by in case of new influx from Libya

08-03-2011 Interview

Since the outbreak of violence in Libya on 15 February 2011, tens of thousands of people have crossed the border into Tunisia in a bid to escape the fighting. Jean-Michel Monod, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Tunis, describes the situation on the ground.

How are things on the border?

When violence first erupted in Libya, five to ten thousand people of different nationalities (Tunisian, Egyptian, Bangladeshi, Nigerian, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc.) were arriving on the Tunisian border every day. Thousands of these people were rapidly repatriated to their countries of origin, either by their own governments or by other governments willing to lend a hand. Their evacuation by ship or plane was coordinated with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The pace of new arrivals has now slowed down. On Sunday 6 March, for instance, only 2,000 people showed up at the camp set up by UNHCR and the Tunisian army, with assistance from the ICRC, the Tunisian Red Crescent and others. The population of the camp, which is situated a few kilometres away from the border on the Tunisian side, has dropped from over 20,000 to 15,000 people owing both to the dwindling number of arrivals and the surge in departures.

The fact that fewer people are crossing the border, however, does not mean that the crisis is over. Reports on the situation in western Libya lead us to believe that the presence of humanitarian organizations like the Tunisian Red Crescent and the ICRC – and their partners within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – remains necessary.

What is the ICRC doing?

During the initial response to the crisis, the ICRC enabled people crossing the border to speak by phone with their families at home. By Monday 7 March, over 9,000 people had taken advantage of this service in order to let their relatives know that they were safe. We also set up temporary shelters and provided access to clean water by installing water tanks and sanitary facilities.

How are Red Cross and Red Crescent activities coordinated?

There has been a massive response by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to the crisis in Libya. The role of the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is to ensure that this response is effective and well coordinated.

So far, these efforts have paid off, largely thanks to the key role played by the Tunisian Red Crescent.


Photos

Jean-Michel Monod 

Jean-Michel Monod
© ICRC

Ras Jedir, Tunisia. 4 March 2011. ICRC staff assists refugees in the camp to contact their family through cellular phones. 

Ras Jedir, Tunisia. 4 March 2011. ICRC staff assists refugees in the camp to contact their family through cellular phones.
© ICRC / Getty Images / Mathias Depardon / tn-e-00164
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Ras Jedir, Tunisia 4 March 2011. Bangladeshi migrant workers in Ras Jedir transit camp wait in line for a food distribution. Thousands of migrant workers arrived in the camp in the last few days to escape the violence. The Tunisian Red Crescent is providing food and clothing to those most in need.  

Ras Jedir, Tunisia 4 March 2011. Bangladeshi migrant workers in Ras Jedir transit camp wait in line for a food distribution. Thousands of migrant workers arrived in the camp in the last few days to escape the violence. The Tunisian Red Crescent is providing food and clothing to those most in need.
© ICRC / Getty Images / Mathias Depardon / tn-e-00167
Download high resolution image